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Hiding behind the camera

Taking pictues of yourself for a photo journal is not as easy as it sounds. Looking at images of yourself can be downright painful. Even deeper than surface self image issues lingers the simple question: “who am I?” “Who is this staring at me from this photograph?” I struggle with that one the most.

Honestly, I think I used to have a good idea who “I” am while I worked (before having my two sons). And mostly that identity was tied to my occupation. That occupation had a meaning attached. Now being a ‘stay-at-home-mom’ seems to have much less meaning attached. Don’t get me wrong, it has a great meaning to me. And it is the toughest “job”/occupation I have ever had. With the longest hours and the least amount of pay. But to others it seems to have a rather vague meaning when asked: “what do you do?”, to which you answer: “I stay home with my kids.” The blank stare and the lack of what to say usually follow from the person asking the question. Then Iusually get the obligatory “oh, that’s nice”.

What I should say when asked that question is: “I write history”. I am molding and shaping the lives of two human beings: exposing them to a well-rounded approach to life. I document their lives via photographs, scrapbooks, dvd’s of videos and pictures put to music. The memories get written into baby books, cards and letters and some stick so vividly in my mind that I know I will never forget them. I change so much more than dirty diapers. I change moods, perspectives, diets, creativity, interests, beliefs etc. I live, through today, to sculpt their tomorrow. I write history.

But this still leaves me stuck on the question: “who am I”. Most days I don’t recognize myself in photos. I take the portraits and rush to the computer to look at them secretly hoping that the image will suprise me and be the “me” I used to be; slim, well-groomed, less wrinkled. What I see usually puzzles me. Who is that? (I think to myself). My clothes are stained, my teeth too yellow from drinking pots of coffee to stay awake over the years. My belly hangs over my pants in standard muffin top position (can I blame that on my most recent c-section even though it was 20 months ago?) When I try to wear make up or jewelery I feel like I am trying too hard or that I look inauthentic for the day’s daily chores. My hands are so dry that the corners of my fingers crack (I probably wash my hands 30 times per day after various cleaning chores and diaper changes). Yada yada yada. (I know, I am belly aching. Ahem, focus focus.)

So, for my photo journal project, I choose photos of myself that hide the extra pounds. I try and hide the wrinkles and sun damage. I try to limit exposure of the “cool” new red shirt from Wal-Mart that has a stain directly on my left nipple. (It’s the shirt I haven’t even paid for yet that always gets stained. ) I try to slap on some makeup and lip gloss in attempt to look like the other mommies I see wearing well-applied amke up, Uggs and North Face jackets or cool fur lined vests with their hair newly colored and styled like they just left the salon at 9 am. I try to mask my $15 Fantastic Sams cut with some Aveda products to try and make it look more professional. Blah Blah Blah.

And I do most of these things to hide my insecurities. Some of them are like thick lava that has hardened to the rock of my self-image.

I choose photos for the project that seem to dig deep enough to remind me that I was once confident (somewhat) and that I was once not so itchy in my own skin.

What I hope to do during this project is to learn to let the person inside out rather than trying to make her into something she was 20 years ago. I need to learn to be comfortable in my own skin. To learn to relax and be free. To unleash the creative, passionate free spirit I once was. I be comfortable with the added years, pounds and wrinkles by focusing on the inside and not the outside.

I want to get to know me again. I want to learn photography, I want to connect with others and not feel so isolated, insecure and lonely.

Wish me luck, love and self-acceptance (and a free makeover).

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Lori - February 7, 2008 - 9:21 pm

The way you describe your current “job” makes me proud of my own job description. I absolutely love your answer to “what do I do?”

We have much in common…most prominent the fact that we are both hard on ourselves. When I look at you I see beauty, creativity, passion. These qualities are coming out in your photos.

Welcome to the Blogosphere!

To help jumpstart you, I am tagging you at

Heasleye - March 6, 2008 - 10:33 pm

I can so relate to your thoughts and feelings about a daily self portrait project and how it seems to ask and answer (and ask again) the question, “Who am I?” I often feel lost within a shell of motherhood, wanting to infuse my true self into that role and into my child yet grasping at how to accomplish that when my true self seems rather elusive in this season. I am grateful for the glimpses that have been revealed by doing a photo journal.

Elaine Heasley

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